Mining its roots: Fools Gold mixes Hebrew with Afro-pop

A musician is dancing near an expansive swimming pool at a Beverly Hills mansion, mugging for the camera while singing in Hebrew, his bass guitar strapped to his back.

The other musicians in Fool’s Gold surround him — along with some senior citizens in bathing suits squirting each other with bottles of bright orange soda and dogs leaping through the grass.

Luke Top

The bemusing scene is from Fool’s Gold’s new music video for a song on the band’s debut self-titled album. In support of that first release, the indie Afro-pop crew has embarked on a tour that stops in San Francisco on Saturday, Oct. 10 at the Bottom of the Hill.

The founding members of Fool’s Gold — bassist-vocalist Luke Top and lead guitarist Lewis Pesacov —were born in Israel, although both immigrated to the United States with their families by age 4.

And while they enjoy the American lifestyle, it’s not as if Top and his bandmates are actually living out the lavish poolside scene, replete with octogenarians and canines, in their “Surprise Hotel” music video.

In fact, that image seemed worlds away from Top during a phone interview between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Top said he kept things more down-to-earth during the High Holy Days, hanging out in the Los Angeles area with family and friends.

The L.A. area — more specifically, the San Fernando Valley — is where Top and Pesacov met. They didn’t know each other in Israel, but met at age 10 while attending a camp in Reseda.

“We were the dorkiest kids at camp,” Top said.

The two have been playing music together ever since, excluding a few years earlier this decade when Top lived in the Bay Area while attending San Francisco State University.

After Top returned to Southern California, Fool’s Gold informally began in 2006. The band has since played everywhere from a natural history museum to outdoor pool parties, along with the traditional circuit of bars and live-music venues.

Both Top and Pesacov are interested in different forms of African music, as well as ’80s dance pop — and with Fool’s Gold, they’ve managed to seamlessly blend the two, along with Top’s mixture of Hebrew and English vocals.

“When we were jamming one day, I just started singing in Hebrew,” Top said. “As I continue to write, the Hebrew has gained meaning for me. It’s no longer accidental. I grew up in Los Angeles, but am attached to Israeli culture, and the singing has connected me with something I didn’t anticipate.”

While Top can speak conversational Hebrew, he readily admitted he gets help from family and friends with some of the translations. He sees it as a positive challenge.

Beyond Top and Pesacov, Fool’s Gold includes eight to 12 musicians  (depending on the show) playing instruments including but not limited to: goat-skin Djembe drums, African banana bells, goat-toe rattles, Axatse shell gourds and an oversized tambourine purchased on the streets of Cairo.

Fool’s Gold

With all of that, plus a few traditional instruments such as a keyboard and saxophone, sometimes the stage can get a bit cramped, but Top said he feeds off the creative energy of it.

As for his spirituality, Top said he observed the recent High Holy Days in his own way.

“It seems common among the Jews that I know, we’re not particularly religious but we are highly identified by our Judaism — both culturally and spiritually,” he said.

Judaism is also integral to his family history. Top said his Iraqi Jewish mother and her family fled to Israel when anti-Semitism was beginning its rise in Arab countries, and that his father’s family fled to Israel, as well, from Poland during the Holocaust.

“When I think of all the things [my extended family] went through and survived, the fact that I’m even here…” he trails off, “Well, I’m glad I’ve had music to express myself.”

To that end, Top loves to see the audience members express themselves when Fool’s Gold is on stage.

“I prefer when people are having fun and dancing — it’s so much better than the bewildered stares [at some bar shows],” he said with a laugh. “I’d like be known as the go-to fun Afro-pop band.”

Fool’s Gold will play at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F. Information: www.bottomofthehill.com or www.myspace.com/foolsgold.